• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Stop wasting time looking for files and revisions. Connect your Gmail, DriveDropbox, and Slack accounts and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio will automatically organize all your file attachments. Learn more and claim your free account.



Page history last edited by Joseph Pettigrew 3 years, 6 months ago

A child's life shows folly of adults, media

February 24, 2003

Detroit Free Press




The girl millions of Americans remember as Baby Jessica turned 12 this month, and her story ought to humble all of us who foresaw such a dark future when the Michigan Supreme Court returned her to her birth parents in 1993.


Anna Schmidt was only a few weeks old when she became the object of a nationally publicized custody fight between her biological parents in Iowa and an Ann Arbor couple who hoped to adopt her.


Abetted by media-savvy advisers, Jan and Roberta DeBoer easily won the contest for the hearts and minds of the American public, who almost universally perceived the DeBoers as more responsible, better educated, and altogether more suited for parenthood than Anna's birth parents.


But the law was with Dan and Cara Schmidt, who regained custody of their daughter and brought her home to Iowa after a legal firefight that lasted 2 1/2 years. Even worshipers at the Schmidts' Lutheran church wept for the DeBoers' loss. Then they and practically everyone else waited to see how and when Anna's psychological devastation would manifest itself.


The tragedy that wasn't

Nine years later, they're still waiting. WDIV-TV (Channel 4) reporter Paula Tutman, who recently spent a weekend day at home with Anna Schmidt, found a self-possessed 12-year-old who adores her parents and her 9-year-old sister, makes friends easily and sings every Sunday before the congregation that once looked down its nose at her natural parents.


Not that Anna's life in Blairstown, Iowa, has been a light breeze on the lake. Her dad has been out of work since 1999, when a trench he was working in caved in, injuring his pelvis.


Dan and Cara divorced the following year. Anna and her sister, Chloe, divide their time between Dan's and Cara's residences.


It's not the family Beaver Cleaver grew up in -- but whose family is? Anna doesn't act like someone who's been dealt a bad hand. Maybe she's old enough to recognize that in a world where many children lack even a single adult who cares about them, she and her sister have lucked out.


She seems more bemused than haunted by her extraordinary history. In Tutman's interview, Anna can be seen leafing through a copy of "Losing Jessica," Robby DeBoer's account of her and Jan's unsuccessful adoption bid. Anna has also watched the made-for-TV movie of the custody fight, a maliciously deceitful production that canonized the DeBoers and reduced Anna's parents to hillbilly caricatures living in a hubcap-studded trailer.  


A father's lesson

Dan Schmidt's bitterness toward the news media that made him and Cara national pariahs isn't hard to understand, and time has taken only a little of the edge off his anger.


"What I learned," he told Tutman, "is that the media, the papers, they make one person good and one person bad." Journalists who don't recognize at least a kernel of truth in that observation need to look harder


What's clear, nine years later, is that there are no real villains in Anna Schmidt's still-unfolding life story -- just a whole lot of clumsy adults doing their level best to be heroes.  


A child can do far worse than that, as Anna seems to have figured out long ago.

Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.